Read 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey Online

Authors: Patrick O'Brian,Patrick O'Brian

Tags: #Maturin; Stephen (Fictitious character), #Historical - General, #South Africa, #English Historical Fiction, #FICTION, #Aubrey; Jack (Fictitious character), #Historical adventure, #Sea Stories, #Historical, #British, #Crime & Thriller, #General, #Fiction - Historical

21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey

BOOK: 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey
6.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub



The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey


When Patrick O'Brian died in early January 2000
, he left 65 handwritten pages of the untitled twenty-first novel in the Aubrey/Maturin series. He had also begun typing the same material and had made revisions to the typescript.
The printed version of 21 presented here follows the author's revised typescript, with the correction of a few obvious omissions and errors of spelling. But it is not to be supposed that these pages are exactly as O'Brian would have wanted them to be in a final draft, or had he seen proofs of his book. There are occasional word repetitions and rhyming echoes — how he abhorred these! — that he would surely have caught on subsequent readings. The typescript ends in mid-sentence (page 114), and chapter 3 continues — without conclusion — in O'Brian's own hand. The facsimile pages include such wonderful curiosities as O'Brian's sketch of the seating arrangements for a dinner party, and the reader is granted a last, intimate glimpse of this extraordinary writer practicing his craft.

—Starling Lawrence

Blue at the Mizzen
(Novel #20) ended with Jack Aubrey getting the news, in Chile, of his elevation to flag rank: rear admiral of the Blue Squadron, with orders to sail to the South Africa station. The next novel, unfinished and untitled at the time of the author's death, would have been the chronicle of that mission, and much else besides. The three chapters left on O'Brian's desk at the time of his death are presented here in both a printed version — including his corrections to the typescript — and a facsimile of his manuscript, which goes several pages beyond the end of the typescript to include a duel between Stephen Maturin and an impertinent officer who is courting his fiancée.

Of course we would rather have had the whole story; instead we have this proof that O'Brian's powers of observation, his humour, and his understanding of his characters were undiminished to the end.

Patrick O'Brian
(b. 1914), whose works won the passionate admiration of millions of readers worldwide, died in January 2000. In addition to twenty volumes in the Aubrey/Maturin series, O'Brian's many novels include Testimonies and The Golden Ocean.
O'Brian has also written acclaimed biographies of Pablo Picasso and Sir Joseph Banks and has translated many works from the French, among them the novels and memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir, the bestseller Papillion , and Jean Lacouture's biography of Charles de Gaulle.


tephen Maturin squared up to his writing-desk once more: he had been called away to attend to one of the ship's boys who in the lightness of his heart had contrived to stun himself in the foretop by taking the maul from its place, tossing it to a considerable height and so misjudging the revolutions as it fell that the massive head struck him down, speechless and unnaturally pale. Stephen dressed the wound, such as it was (more bruise than blood and no bone broken) and said to his loblolly-boy “
Tell Dr Jacob, when he comes back, that this boy is to have no grog for the next three days, and to morrow he may keep his hammock.

Dr Jacob, the surgeon's mate, was away visi ting friends aboard the frigate’
s tender, the rapid and wind -wardly Chesapeake schooner Ringle, and Stephen glanced in her direction, fine on the starboard bow, before going down from the brilliance of noon to the comparatively sombre cabin that he shared with Captain Aubrey.

He had already written
My dear Christine before he was called away, and he had dated the letter Surprise, at sea, in Magellan’
s Strait.
At his first sitting down he had meant to tell her, with what skill he could command, of the extraordinary beauty of the weather and of the Strait, generally so forbidding: he should certainly have spoken of the favourable wind that had allowed them to keep topgallantsails abroad ever since the morning watch; but above all he should have dwelt upon the happiness that filled the ship, homeward bound after a very long, arduous and most uncommonly dangerous voyage, a well-found ship commanded by a right seaman, a well-liked, deeply-respected fighting captain who, moreover, was soon to hoist his flag. There was no secret about this: Jack Aubrey’
s first unrestrained cries of delight on receipt of the blessed order had not escaped his steward nor anyone else within a range of twenty yards: nor had the unwonted floods of rum, the feasts in cabin, gunroom and midshipmen's berth; and the sacred blue flag itself, the mark of a rear-admiral, lay openly on the fo’c’
sle, shaded from too fierce a sun, from untimely drops of spray, by an awning, the sailmaker and his mates, the ship's tailor and his, titivating it with minute stitches, while every hand aboard added half an inch of seam around its ample verge. It was considered the handsomest ensign in the service.

But for the moment t
he flag was absent from Stephen’
s mind: indeed the mind itself was in a singular state of absence, hesitation, even stupidity. Before being called to the wretched boy, he had known at least the general trend of the passages that were to follow the words that lay there before him; but now he was filled with doubt, and to give his wits time to settle and clarify he mended his pen, clipping its tip with a minute pair of metal jaws made for the purpose and trimming the sides with a lancet capable of splitting hairs.

Yet the right free, easy, candid expressions would not come, though the Christine in question was very dear to him: Stephen had long practised medicine, a calling in which discretion is often of great importance; but for an even longer time, if time is to be measured by stress, he had been an intelligence-agent, and here discretion was of the very essence, since an unguarded word or st ep might lead to the agent’
s death and to the death, the often hideous death, of his friends and the destruction of their cause.

He sat down, his expression still tolerably blank: he was a lean, middle-sized man, unremarkable, of mixed Catalan and Irish origin; but it was the tropical sun and the sea-air that accounted for his dark complexion, not any mixture of Moorish blood, for although his birth was illegitimate (which weighed upon him) his ancestors had been Christians time out of mind. A man of something less than forty, though he looked older as his mind wrestled with the difficulties of giving the intelligent woman he longed to marry a coherent, plausible account of the
activities and of her present return, mission accomplished: for as soon as Captain Aubrey joined the South African squadron in the River Plate, going aboard
, taking command of her and hoisting or causing to be hoisted the flag, blue at the mizzen, her act would turn him into that glorious creature a rear-admiral, the likelihood, the virtual certainty, was that Surprise should return to England, carrying Jack Aubrey’
s official dispatch, two young men who were to pass for lieutenant and a great number of papers and certificates from the bosun, carpenter, gunner and purser justifying the expenditure or replacement o f almost every item in the ship’
s unbelievably complex gear, furnishings and supplies, from pistol-flints to great round -shot and innumerable blocks. There was also a flat, factual, unadorned account of the
meetings with the Chilean authorities and of her proceedings, together with volume after volume of her activity in charting and surveying the South American islands and coasts.

She was one of the smaller frigates, carrying no more than 28 great guns, and although in the right hands she was an outstanding sailor she had been sold out of the service when heavier craft were built and Stephen had bought her: so there she was, eminently seaworthy and available for hire to the Hydrographical Service of the Admiralty once Napoleon had been dealt with and the western world was at something like peace.

Her ostensible function was to survey and chart the little-known coasts and innumerable islands of the recently independent republic of Chile and to help form its navy, training the young officers. All this was perfectly avowable and even praiseworthy, but the voyage had other aspects that were never distinctly laid down in written orders but that were implied and understood on either side: and here total candour was wholly out o f the question, so that Stephen’
s letter home could obviously not be all he wished.

In t
he first place, through Stephen’
s innumerable connexions, Jack had been appointed commander-in-chief of the Chilean navy as well as Admiralty hydrographer; but the frigate’
s voyage had been slow (very foul weather south of the Horn) and when she reached Chile she found that the situation had changed remarkably.
Apart from anything else she was met with a bewildering number of juntas, of more or less independent governing bodies belonging to widely differing political parties, one of which had appointed its own commander-in-chief though all were obsessed by the fear of a Peruvian i nvasion by land or sea or both: Peru was still ruled by the Spanish kin g’
s viceroy in Lima, and it still possessed a powerful, well-trained navy.

After a very great number of vicissitudes, changes of ministry and so on it appeared to Jack that since his main duty, often expressed in London but never committed to writing, was to preserve the independent Chilean republic, the best way of doing so and at the same time of protecting his beloved infant Chilean navy was to attack the Peruvians in their port of Callao and if possible to cut out their powerful frigate Esmeralda, the heaviest, best-armed man-of-war on the Pacific coast of America. This he did with extraordinary success, at the risk of his life; and he brought the Esmeralda back to Valparaiso. He was much flattered and caressed, but later he was treated very shabbily indeed: his men were not paid, they were denied their prize-money from various sources, and upon some pretext his ship was threatened with impoundment. Yet though Jack sometimes behaved like a simpleton by land, and though he was often swindled ashore, he was sea-wise, and having provisioned and stored his ship with the basic supplies needed to carry her at least to some port in the Argentine, he handed the Chileans an ultimatum: either his men must have their due by a given date or he should sail away .
They were not paid, and he did sail away. Yet although the
voyage had something of the appearance of a failure, in fact the Spanish hold on South America was broken: and although this had not been the Admiralty’
s direct order, the result gave immense satisfaction in the proper quarters.

Furthermore Jack had on board a singularly amiable and gifted young man, the unacknowledged but much beloved illegitimate son of Prince William, Admiral the Duke of Clarence, a zealous sailor and almost certain to be king after his brother’
s death. Clarence had a great respect f or Captain Aubrey (some of Jack’
s actions were indeed extraordinarily brilliant), and through Dr Maturin, who had treated His Highness for a variety of disease, mostly discreditable, had begged Jack to take the youth on this voyage: and young Hanson had distinguished himself as much as any loving naval father could have wished, cutting the
cable and carrying her out under fire. Yet even this was not all: on the Pacific coast Jack and Stephen had met with a small stout vessel filled with fellow members of the Royal Society, two of whom, ornithologists, were determined to cross the narrow isthmus of Panama and return to London by the Atlantic. And these excellent creatures agreed to take Jack’
s dispatches - the news of his famous victory and the preservation of Chile - back to the Admiralty, then in the process of forming a South African squadron. Maturin and his chief, the head of Naval Intelligence, had long since established a system of rapid communication across the Andes, and it was thanks to this arrangement that Jack received the Admiralty’
s beautiful reply, a signal requiring him ‘
to proceed to the River Plate, there to go aboard HMS
Suffolk t
aking command of her and hoisting his flag, blue at the mizzen,’
that had spread such happiness throughout the ship.

Yet although the ephemeral Chilean ministry had fallen, to be replaced by one of its many rivals, the satisfaction that might have been supposed to accompany an assured independence was by no means general: there were many Chileans who regretted their old friends and their declared policies. Furthermore the feeling was not confined to Chile: there were many Chilean refugees and many of their Argentinean friends who had resented the En glishmen’
s presence and who now even more bitterly resented their absence –
to say nothing of those many, many Argentineans who so clearly remembered the British capture of Buenos Aires and the even greater number of those who looked upon them as heretics, given to cursing the Holy Father almost every day.

Both Maturin and Jacob had caught wind of this feeling both in Chile and during their very beautiful passage of the Strait; and in the afternoon before they were to put in to San Pedro, a small sealing and fishing port at the bottom of an inlet on the northern shore with some sheltered arable land behind it famous for potatoes and cabbages on the one hand and prodigious mussels and crayfish on the other, Stephen said, “
My dear Jack, in the backwoods of America they say that an evil reputation is like an inextinguishable debt; and we have been so maligned on the Pacific coast that it might be prudent to arm the boats, or even to hale the ship so close to the strand that your great guns command the whole set tlement.”

BOOK: 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey
6.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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